Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim
Smart kids using smart devices
I get annoyed by parents who keep telling me how ‘clever’ their little ones are because ‘they know how to use an iPad’. “Just see how smart this child is, they know exactly where to click to show the pictures,” they beam.
It’s not rocket science. For as long as there were buttons, there have been curious children who want to press them. Whether they are washing machine buttons, buttons on the microwave, television, mobile phone or iPad, it’s the same concept. Kids will click buttons to see what happens and they will keep clicking them until they stop getting a reaction. The bigger the fuss you make over them clicking the button, the more likely they are to do it again.
Who is pushing the buttons?
This is one of the biggest problems we face – letting them push the buttons. You would definitely stop your child from pushing the buttons on your home appliances, but I bet you wouldn’t think of the play button on a Youtube video as the same. Sure, this button is made of code and can hardly break anything you would have to pay for in real life, but still, should your child be pushing those metaphorical buttons incessantly?
Having been a User Experience designer, I know that applications like these are created to manipulate you into staying hooked for as long as possible. That means, even if your child does not want to click the button, the application is designed to make them click the button. It is designed to act like a temptation. “click me, click here, you might like this, up next…” sound familiar?
They become unwilling participants in their own demise. So while you may not be paying for broken appliances with these buttons, you may still end up paying for years of therapy because of them.
Giving them a device is just easier
As a working mother myself, I know how easy it is to placate kids with technology when you need those fifteen minutes of peace after a long day of slogging. As a conscious parent though, I try as far as possible to avoid it. Yes, I Google everything and a lot of times I Youtube things if I want to learn about something. It’s quick, it’s easy and it is informative. Information at my fingertips.
I wouldn’t give my child the same privilege though. You see, applications like Youtube were not designed for children. As an adult, I can make decisions about what should get my attention and what should not. I can spot fake news, subversion and manipulative design, but only because I was trained to do so. I am not so sure my child can do the same. I am not sure many adults can do the same either. Just look at how many people believe Fox News stories.
Sure, there may be dedicated channels for kids but people can upload anything they feel like on there. None of the content is curated. There are far too many videos for anyone to check the appropriateness of each one that is uploaded. It is one of those applications that are created to distract you, attract you and keep you hooked. It’s like being lost in a maze and four hours later, you wonder what you went in there for (and why all your data is depleted).
Nobody said being a parent is easy, and in this day and age there are a thousand more things that can lead our children astray that we need to pay attention to. The biggest problem is that many of them reach our children via the media, through the very devices we give them. As much as it is so much easier to hand your child your smartphone or tablet to keep them out of your hair and entertained, there are several reasons why you should reconsider using Youtube as your go-to babysitter.
1. It exposes them to violence
Children are the best imitators on the planet. They will often copy what they see instead of listening to what you say. When children are exposed to images of other people exhibiting certain behaviours, they will probably act them out themselves.
Today’s youth are bombarded with videos and images of graphic violence, abuse, misdemeanours and other anti-social behaviours parading as funny clips or jokes on sites like Youtube. The media is normalising unethical behaviours and your child is young and impressionable and has a higher likelihood of imitating what they see.
There are many cases of channels where children are being abused for entertainment. Will your child grow up to think that abusing others is a normal and funny thing to do? Rather try to expose them to videos of good manners and behaviours that you want them to emulate. Abu Hurairah (RA) said, “I heard Abu al Qasim (Rasulullah (SAW)), say, ‘The best among you in Islam are those with the best manners, so long as they develop a sense of understanding.” (Al-Bukhari)
2. It creates unnecessary fear
There are many videos that may increase unnecessary fear in your child. Although legitimate fear is a necessary emotion in human beings and serves to protect us from danger, creating unnecessary fear in your child can lead to anxiety and depression. Children are more prone to experiencing imaginary fears. This can make them anxious, timid and also obsessive about certain things.
Your child may be curious about Jinns, evil, magic, sorcery and other dark topics often featured in horror movies and may even feel as though they are big enough to handle such scenes, but they will probably end up afraid to sleep alone at night. Even if they do not watch the movies that are available online, there are adverts, snippets and movie clips that pop up while your child is watching other videos.
Even exposing your child to graphic violence, as is often the case in news reports in some countries, is known to cause anxiety in little children. Subscribing your child to ‘kids’ channels on Youtube does not keep them safe. There are many videos where cartoon images are used in gory scenes to trick kids into watching it. Preventing fear is better than curing a mental disorder later on.
3. It sexualises your child way too early
You may be happy to allow your children to watch cartoons because ‘it’s kids stuff’ right? Well, have you closely studied the actual scenes in many of these cartoons?
Even Disney videos are sexualising children very early on and exposing them to inappropriate content. If cartoons are considered safe and have scenes of simulated sex, imagine what other videos kids are watching on Youtube? There are many channels with inappropriate content designed to lure children into watching them.
Children like to watch other children in videos and may think they are clicking on some interesting video for kids, but be warned, there are an endless array of fetish videos featuring every pedophiles dream : children in bathing suits, entire videos dedicated to showing children getting injections on their rear ends, semi-nude children with insects and animals in gory scenes and other weird simulations.
These are specifically designed to create a visceral reaction so that even if you can’t stand the sight, you will still watch it to see what happens. This draws your child into watching more and more videos. There are no restrictions. All your child has to do is click on a button and they can be watching sexually explicit videos that can damage them for life.
4. Your children are copycats
Children are watching and copying irresponsible pranks they watch on YouTube. Have you heard of the kissing challenge, the touch my body challenge or boiling water challenge? This insane prank has been spread via social media and involves participants filming themselves pouring boiling water over an innocent person all in the name of getting a laugh and dozens of hits for their video.
Some children also dared others to drink boiling water while being filmed as a new twist in the trend emerged. At least two children have died after being harmed in this way. Rather teach your children how to treat others instead of how not to treat others.
5. You are giving them idols to worship
How many of your kids watch the same cartoons over and over and over again? You are probably happy to let them do it too – because it keeps them quiet and happy. Then they want to dress up like these characters and act like them. They even want to grow up to be like them. Even little boys want to grow up to be princesses and these cartoons are telling them it’s okay. Your child probably has hundreds of toys, clothing and posters with these character’s faces on them.
It is going to be impossible for you to convince your child that the characters they love so much are not as wonderful as they think they are anymore.
You may even search Youtube to find other videos containing the same characters to entertain your child. Be very careful. Cartoon characters are being used to manipulate your children into becoming morally corrupt. There are dedicated channels created to do just that. Hundreds of channels feature your child’s favourite idols as drunk, promiscuous teens or lecherous villains.
6. Your kids are being targeted by big businesses
Are you tired of watching adverts, knowing that their sole intention is to get you to buy some product that you don’t need? As advertising to adults has become less effective, advertising directly to children has become more effective.
Ever notice how your child insists they want some new toy or game? How did they even learn about it? Youtube videos are packed with adverts aimed at children and your child’s online behaviour is being tracked and monitored so they can be manipulated at the right moments.
Sometimes it is harder to figure out if they are watching an advert or a video because there is a new brand of infomercial on the scene – unboxing videos. These are videos where children are being manipulated into watching others open up new toys and gadgets, showing off their latest purchase, making your child want it too.
It appeals to their sense of envy and makes them greedy. It makes them want what others have and it is a never ending spiral of consumerism. A single unboxing video showing the toys inside Disney-themed Kinder Eggs attracted more than 35 million views, and there are thousands just like it. Even if you can afford to buy your child everything they see online, be wary of what this incessant need to get everything they see is doing to them.
The Prophet Muhammed, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him (SAW) said: “By Allah I do not fear poverty and starvation overtaking you, but I fear that you will have abundant wealth at your disposal as it had been at the disposal of the nations before you. You will then become extremely greedy in accumulating this wealth just as the previous nations had done. This (greed) will be the cause of your ruin and destruction just as it destroyed the people before you”.
7. They can become victims of toxic comments foul language, Islamophobia and racial abuse
Apart from watching inappropriate content, your child can become exposed to inappropriate comments. Many Islamic videos online become targets for Islamophobic rants, aggression and hatred. Your child may become hurt, angry, depressed or feel victimised by users spreading their vitriol online. It can cause serious emotional damage and your child may not know how to handle this kind of situation. It may lead to low self esteem and eventually to them losing their faith so that they can avoid being the targets of such aggression.
Let’s use technology responsibly
At the end of the day we are responsible for what we expose our children to. We can’t control everything that they come into contact with and while we have to prepare them for a world where Muslims have many issues and insults to deal with on a daily basis, we have to find the right time place and manner in which to do so.
Exposing them to unnecessary violence, explicit and abusive commentary and generally subversive content that is designed to manipulate them for the worse, should be avoided. Technology can be useful or harmful, depending on its intention. While you may think Youtube itself is not a bad thing, the intentions behind a lot of what your child can be exposed to on any social media such as Youtube is inherently questionable.